76ers

Boban Marjanovic's size is impossible to ignore, but he's more than a novelty

Boban Marjanovic's size is impossible to ignore, but he's more than a novelty

Boban Marjanovic sometimes seems like a walking punch line. Not in a mean-spirited way, mind you — he’s far too charismatic to be teased, and far too good-natured to mind if he was. But the simple reality that he is probably the largest human being you will ever encounter is impossible to ignore. 

While his size remains his most important attribute as a player, Marjanovic has shown through the first three games of the Sixers’ first-round playoff series against the Nets that he is no joke.

He’s averaged 14.3 points and 6.3 rebounds in just 17.3 minutes per game this series. Thursday night in Brooklyn, he posted 14 points, made all eight of his foul shots during the Sixers' 131-115 win, and was so vital that Brett Brown inserted him into the game with five fouls and just under nine minutes to play.

It was a reasonable choice, too, given how much better the Sixers were playing with Marjanovic on the floor than Greg Monroe. Marjanovic, who fouled out with 7:05 left on a suspect offensive foul call, was a plus-18, while Monroe was a minus-9.  

The Nets haven’t had much success drawing Marjanovic away from the rim and exposing his lack of foot speed. He’s generally dropped deep in pick-and-roll coverage, giving the Sixers’ perimeter defenders time to recover when they fall a step behind, and he’s even survived on one or two switches against guards like D’Angelo Russell and Caris LeVert.

“I’m pretty tall, you know,” Marjanovic told reporters, an understatement. “The effect is my size. Sometimes just to be there, my size helps me to protect the basket. We work on that, we prepare for that … we must stick to the plan.”

Brooklyn has shot a combined 5 for 13 against Marjanovic in Games 2 and 3, per NBA.com/Stats. The unlikely duo of Marjanovic and Monroe is not in Joel Embiid’s league defensively, but the idea of Marjanovic helping to hold down the fort if Embiid misses Game 4 shouldn’t be terrifying to the Sixers.

Marjanovic, though an historically efficient player, might eventually regress in these playoffs.

Monroe’s comment that Marjanovic “hasn’t missed from midrange since I’ve been here” is not a massive exaggeration. The odds are his jumper will cool off a little, and some of the shots the Nets are missing around the rim will start dropping.

In that event, Brown likes Mike Scott as a small-ball five contingency plan, as he showed Thursday. It appears rookie Jonah Bolden and Amir Johnson will not play significant playoff roles — although we would have said the same thing about Monroe a week or two ago.

For the time being, Brown can rely on Marjanovic. As Embiid’s absence highlighted, the 7-foot-3 Serbian — always eager to praise his teammates — is more than a mere novelty.

“We need to hold each other,” Marjanovic said. “Sometimes this happens — [Embiid] can be out or somebody else. We’re here together and we helped each other to get this win and play the game better and better.” 

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2020 NBA playoffs: Sixers will take on Celtics in first round

2020 NBA playoffs: Sixers will take on Celtics in first round

It’s seemed an inevitability for a while, but now it’s official: The Sixers will play the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs.

The Pacers beat the Rockets on Wednesday, which means the Sixers cannot finish ahead of Indiana. Though the Sixers could still end with an identical record to the Pacers', Indiana would hold the tiebreaker because of a 3-1 edge in the regular-season series. This will be the second time in the past three years that the Sixers have played Boston in the postseason. With the help of valuable contributions from current Sixer Al Horford, the Celtics won a tight five-game series in the second round in 2018. 

The winner of the Sixers-Celtics series will take on either the No. 2 seed Raptors or No. 7 seed Nets in the second round. 

The Sixers beat Boston in their first three regular-season meetings this season, then lost 116-95 on Feb. 1, a game in which Joel Embiid shot 1 for 11. Embiid, who is available to play Wednesday after suffering a left ankle injury Sunday, will be especially important with Ben Simmons out after undergoing surgery to remove a loose body from his left knee. While the Feb. 1 performance against the Celtics was one of his worst this year, his 38-point, 13-rebound, six-assist effort in a Dec. 12 win over Boston was one of his best. 

He expects to face relentless double teams from the Celtics — and from any opponent, for that matter. The 26-year-old had been responding to double teams well at Disney World before his injury and averaged 30.0 points, 13.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists in the Sixers’ first four seeding games. 

“I’ve just gotta keep on getting better,” he said on Aug. 3, “because I know that every single game I’m going to get doubled, so I’ve gotta just figure that out to be the offense and create shots for my teammates. If I’m open and I’ve got a duck-in, just go out and do it. But other than that, just try to make sure defenders attract a lot of attention, just for my teammates.”

Perimeter defense will be a challenge for the Sixers without Simmons, especially against All-Stars Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum. Josh Richardson, Matisse Thybulle and Glenn Robinson III are among the players who should draw the most difficult assignments.

In addition to Robinson, trade deadline acquisition Alec Burks hasn’t played this season in a Sixers-Celtics matchup. He’s been a bright spot in the seeding games as a shot creator off the bench and has also made 12 of his 22 three-point attempts (54.5 percent). 

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Sixers injury update: Joel Embiid, Al Horford, Tobias Harris available vs. Raptors

Sixers injury update: Joel Embiid, Al Horford, Tobias Harris available vs. Raptors

Joel Embiid is available for the Sixers’ game Wednesday night vs. the Raptors after missing Tuesday’s loss to the Suns with a left ankle injury. 

The three-time All-Star sustained the injury in the first quarter of the Sixers' game Sunday against the Trail Blazers. He appeared to grimace after his left foot landed awkwardly on the basket stanchion (see video above). 

Al Horford and Tobias Harris will also return after sitting out Tuesday's game with left knee soreness and right ankle soreness, respectively. Josh Richardson, who rested against Phoenix, is available as well. 

On Tuesday, Brett Brown said the players out vs. the Suns could've played in a postseason game, and the news that they're available for the team's penultimate seeding game clearly indicates that is indeed the case. The Sixers head into their game vs. the Raptors at 43-29, a game behind the No. 5 seed Pacers in the Eastern Conference. They're likely to face the No. 3 seed Celtics in the first round of the playoffs, and a Pacers win vs. the Rockets this afternoon and/or Sixers loss to Toronto would finalize that matchup. 

Alec Burks is out for the game against Toronto with left foot soreness, an injury that The Inquirer's Keith Pompey reports is not a "long-term concern." He's performed well at Disney World, averaging 14.3 points and shooting 57.1 percent over the Sixers' six games, and looks primed to play a key role in the playoffs as the Sixers forge ahead with Ben Simmons sidelined by a left knee injury. Simmons had successful surgery to remove a loose body from his knee on Monday.

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